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Defensive Relapse

Remember back when Maryland's defense used to be, you know, effective? Back when, if nothing else, you could expect Maryland to play solid -- even borderline stifling -- defense?

That was during a time when hopes for this season remained high, before a loss to Morgan State in the nonconference season finale ominously foreshadowed a bumpy ACC season to come. During that time, the Terps' tenacity on defense masked its other deficiences. It was okay that the team struggled to operate the halfcourt offense, because it could create turnovers on defense, which led to plenty of fast break points. It was okay that the Terps could not grab every rebound because they would force enough bad shots that eventually one errant attempt would fall in their direction.

But two things have happened since Maryland began its ACC slate: 1) opposing offenses became more dynamic, and thus, more difficult to stop, and 2) the Terps' defensive prowess waned.

You could argue that the former led to the latter, but you also could argue that both occured simultaneously.

Tuesday night's loss to Boston College was emblematic of the change that has taken place in Maryland's defense in recent weeks. The Terps looked great in the first half. The Eagles were rushing shots, passes and decisions. Star guard Tyrese Rice appeared quite ordinary. The Terps built a double-digit lead. All was well in Comcast Center.

And then Boston College shot 60.0 percent from the field in the second half, erased its deficit and won by nine, embarrasing the Terps in front of their home crowd.

"You can't play like you're up 15," Gary Williams said. "When you're on defense, you have to play at the same intensity level. It's something that we have to change."

Rather, Maryland needs to return to the form it previously had displayed. That's not to say they should be shutting down every foe they face. Even at its best, Maryland's defense isn't good enough to do that. But the Terps at least should be able to do the little things correctly, the ones that have nothing to do with the caliber of their opponent.

Communication is a good example. I know Maryland's roster is mostly full of reserved individuals who prefer to lead by example instead of by word of mouth, but communication, especially on defense, never seemed to be an issue prior to the past two or three weeks. Williams said it's simply a matter of which end of the floor his team is defending.

"It's easier, obviously," when defending near your own bench, Williams said Tuesday. "You can call out screens from the bench. Players do it as well as coaches. Our guys on the bench, they can give some help. But the players on the court have to talk; that's one of the things we have to address. We're not talking enough defensively. There's nobody else to talk except the players on the court. We have to do a better job of that, but a lot of it is you have to stay aggressive for 40 minutes."

Several players agreed that defensive communication was lacking during large portions of Tuesday night's loss, as well as with Williams's notion that the team could not sustain its aggressiveness. At least the second claim isn't new. Williams has been bemoaning that fact for months.

So here's what you've got: A team that never grew out of its old defensive shortcomings that is developing new ones as the season progresses. Maryland ranks ninth in the ACC in field goal percentage defense (40.8 percent allowed) and 10th in three-point field goal percentage defense (33.2 percent allowed).

The Terps used to hold higher spots in those categories, but in step with their defensive endurance, their defensive rankings have diminished.

"We did a great job coming back from the Duke game in the first 20 minutes," Williams said. "We couldn't do it for 40, but we prepared very well tonight. And I was proud of the way the team played in the first 20 minutes. We just couldn't do it in the next 20."

By Steve Yanda  |  January 29, 2009; 7:19 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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A lot of people figured the Terps would have trouble once the ACC season rolled around. They're still too small, and that's most obvious against teams that can rebound (even Morgan State!). There's no eraser inside to help prevent a penetrator, either. These are weaknesses that will dog the club til season's end.

Still, there are some hopeful signs. Those scoring bursts, for instance; if you can go up fifteen on an ACC club, even temporarily, that's something to build on. It means you CAN outscore somebody if you have to. But teams that rely on the running, pressing game can't afford to pull back and try to milk the clock. They have to stay aggressive. And against BC, the Terps didn't.

The Duke game, I'm thinking, was little more than an embarrassment. Duke was clearly laying for Maryland, and that was their night. They lost the very next game, at Wake, and North Carolina continues to struggle (where's that hclark guy now?) If Florida State can take the Heels to the buzzer, then so can Maryland, at home.

There's a natural tendency to focus on players like Vasquez, but the problem, I would argue, continues to be inside. Vasquez just hasn't been able to make up for it.

Posted by: Samson151 | January 29, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

Start Sean Mosely. Always plays tough defense and brings good energy even at the end of the Duke game. Problem, meet answer.

Posted by: Lee26 | January 29, 2009 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Actually, the biggest problem is that the team is gassed in the 2nd half. With no inside presence, they have to keep up the defensive pressure and crash the boards constantly. Which would be fine, but Gary is also full court pressing, and not really playing much of his bench. I would like for some other players to get some extra time, just for the simple reason to give the main starters a blow. And why full court press against BC all game, it made no sense. The reason for the blown leads is lack of talent, coupled with tiredness.

Posted by: cmterpsnskins | January 29, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

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